Monday, 6 September 2010

"Together, There Is Nothing We Cannot Do."

The title of this blog comes from a speech Audrey Hepburn gave in her role as an ambassador for UNICEF, back in June 1989. I love it not only because it's a very simple, yet effective way of reminding people that the problems of the world (starvation, war, disease...) are not only the problems of those who suffer them directly (and that we should all play our part in helping one another), but because, at the heart of that quote, is a belief in love and togetherness that personified Audrey even more than any glamorous image ever could.

Audrey Hepburn is, it's fair to say, an idol to millions. A film icon. A fashion Goddess. A timeless beauty. But it's not simply those things that still appeal to her many admirers long after her death in 1993 (at the age of 63). Audrey didn't simply look good.

In an age of Hollywood beauties, such as Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, she stuck out like a sore thumb with her dark hair (as opposed to being a blonde bombshell like the two aforementioned starlets), her tiny frame and her soft, European accent. Whilst Hollywood divas made ludicrous demands on set and got caught up in a glittering, superstar lifestyle, Audrey maintained a quiet aura of grace, preferring a quiet life at home with those who meant the most to her. In March 1988, she told the press: "I had to make a choice at one point in my life, of missing films or missing my children. It was a very easy decision to make, because I missed my children so very much. When my elder son started going to school, I could not take him with me anymore and that was tough for me, so I stopped accepting pictures. I withdrew to stay at home with my children. I was very happy. It's not as if I was sitting at home, frustrated, biting my nails! Like all mothers, I'm crazy about my two boys."

The desire to shun the limelight, to be with her children rather than make more films, is something all too unheard of in today's fame-hungry society. And not only did Audrey have no intention of putting her career before her children, she also had very little ego. In spite of the fact that at the height of her fame, she was widely regarded as one of the world's most beautiful women, she would dismiss herself as "awkward" or "funny-looking." She didn't have the hourglass figure of Monroe or Mansfield, that's for sure. One of my favourite stories involves her arriving on set, only for the director to look at her breasts and declare: "I think you ought to wear some falsies..." Only for Audrey to reply: "I AM!"

She never thought of herself as better than anyone else, or even prettier than anyone else. There was simply no ego, there. This is a woman who appeared in major Hollywood films such as Breakfast At Tiffany's or My Fair Lady and went home to hold proper, old-fashioned birthday parties for her two sons, making their cakes and their fancy dress costumes herself, rather than ordering them in from some posh boutique. The stereotypical image of Audrey Hepburn may be one of a glamour-puss, oozing class and sophistication, but lets not forget that this was a woman who cherished the role of "mum" more than any film role she ever played.

Audrey wasn't a woman afraid of getting her hands dirty. From the late 80's onwards, she worked as an ambassador for UNICEF, travelling to places such as Somalia and Ethiopia, walking amongst the poor and the starving, feeding desperately ill children and offering comfort to the adults she met. It wasn't a position she took lightly. Audrey made speeches to the united nations and, on her trips to Africa, she rolled up her sleeves and became just another volunteer, with the needs and wants of the hungry children she met becoming her main priority. Even when she began suffering with stomach pains (which would later be diagnosed as due to the cancer that would kill her), she continued to campaign for UNICEF as hard as she could. Here was a woman who had suffered famine and sadness in her own past - now all she wanted was to use her own good fortune to help others.

I don't have the time, the space or the skill with words to do justice to Audrey's memory in one blog. All I can say is that, should you wish to learn more about her, there are plenty of books and websites devoted to her and of course, a legacy of films to enjoy. But it's worth remembering that the Hollywood image is only one side of the woman. A woman who once said: "I was born with an enormous need for affection and a terrible need to give it" - words which I very much identify with, myself. A woman who knew how to make herself look glamorous and fashionable, but who, in reality, looked just as beautiful in a pair of jeans and a polo shirt. A woman who looked into the world and saw the true beauty - not only of mountains or flowers, but of people and the amazing things that they're capable of. Again, something I indentify with. A woman who believed that love could fix anything.

She wasn't just a filmstar or a fashion icon. She was an incredible, sensitive, truly beautiful woman - inside and out. I've not really done her justice at all in this blog, but I wanted to pay my own little tribute to a woman I've admired for all of my adult life and will continue to admire until my dying die. As corny as it sounds, she'll always be my fair lady.

I'll never look like Audrey Hepburn, much as I may sometimes buy a dress or a skirt with an excited squeal of: "Ooh, it's SO Audrey!" But if I can live my life with the same level of grace and of compassion for others, then I'll be doing okay.

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